After a slow and contentious start, a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission is on its way to the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 15, a compromise measure sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and hammered out in the Senate Rules Committee less than a week ago, earned a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday.
Four people — all advocates of open government and an independent redistricting commission — voiced support for the bill during the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes. No one spoke against it.
None of the committee members commented on the bill or asked questions.
The bill’s success is not assured. Not only does it have to clear the Senate, but it also has to make its way through the House of Representatives, where it likely will go before at least one committee before it reaches the House floor for a final vote.
Ivey-Soto’s bill would create a seven-member panel to come up with a redistricting plan for the Legislature to consider by the end of the year. The proposal prohibits a majority of Democrats or Republicans from serving on the body and requires the commission to formulate three plans for the Legislature to weigh during a special session later this year.
For an action that only needs consideration once every decade, the redistricting bill has become a high-profile piece of legislation.
Of the trio of redistricting bills introduced this year, two failed to gain much traction, leading advocates and critics to suggest lawmakers were hindering efforts to get the job done.
And House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said at least twice during the session that he would not support an independent redistricting commission, suggesting any such effort to push one through the House might face a barrier.
Egolf has since said he supports Ivey-Soto’s bill and he signed on as a co-sponsor.
The stakes are high. Redistricting can largely influence which party holds the majority in Congress and in the state Legislature.
Redistricting is required in every state once a decade, following the national census. Normally, states would have U.S. Census Bureau data by now, but the pandemic has caused delays. That means states won’t get that information to start planning for redistricting until at least late September.
As a result, the New Mexico Legislature plans to convene a special session in November or December to select a final plan for new district maps for U.S. Congress, the 112 state legislative seats and the Public Education Commission, which oversees state-approved charter schools.
The goal of redistricting is to ensure the number of people in each voting district remains fairly equal as populations shift. Redistricting boundaries could affect which lawmaker represents which district.